Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Wherein Long Suffering Spouse employs a little Irish misdirection

Today was the first day of school for many around the country but Long Suffering Spouse has been back in the classroom now for over a week.

She called me after the second full day of school; she was in a full, roaring fury.

"This won't work!" she fumed.

There are many possible responses to such a declaration. The most obvious -- what won't work? -- is also the worst one that an unsuspecting husband can make.

Even late in the afternoon, I still had enough mental presence to realize that one. So I had to quickly think of what the answer to that most obvious question might be.

Long Suffering Spouse teaches Spanish at our local parish grade school. Most of her charges are in junior high -- 6th, 7th and 8th grades. She has these older kids four days a week, but she also has "enrichment" classes one day a week, on Wednesdays, when she sees all the other kids in the school as well. They have a trimester schedule at her school -- she might have three classes of kindergartners this trimester and both classes of fifth graders, then both first, second and third grade classes second trimester, and then three year old preschool, four year old preschool and both fourth grades in the spring. But, no, it was too early for enrichment to be an issue.

Our principal is a very energetic woman. She throws off ideas like sparks from flints on stone; some of the ideas last about as long, too. Just when the staff figures out how to implement Plan A, the principal comes along with Plan B.

Plan A this year is same-sex classes for 8th graders -- not all classes, mind you, but Spanish was one of the ones chosen. Many of our Catholic high schools are boys-only or girls-only, so some same-sex classes might be good practice for junior high kids. But our principal isn't interested in that; she'd read that teenage girls can do better at their classwork when not burdened with the social pressures that accompany boys in the classroom. Conversely, she'd read that boys don't act like goofs without girls to showoff for.

Aha! I thought. I'll bet this is the problem.

But one does not stay married for 30 years by making guesses when phone calls start with a furious "this won't work!" Better to test the waters first. "They were awful today?" I asked, trying to convey as much sympathy as possible into that short query.

Note to you young marrieds out there: I left myself wriggle room in case "they" turned out to be my wife's fellow teachers or, perhaps, our boarders (Younger Daughter and her husband, Olaf). But, as it turned out, I'd guessed correctly. It was the 8th graders.

"The girls were bad enough," Long Suffering Spouse replied, "all chatty, but the boys -- the boys!"

Apparently the boys had started singing a Spanish song she'd taught them in 3rd grade when they came in. She hadn't asked them to sing that -- or anything else. They wouldn't be quiet. They wouldn't even stay seated. Someone was always providing a running commentary; sometimes more than one. There were scatological references and general hilarity when someone passed gas. Someone else made a noise or a gesture that set off the chorus on a string of sexual innuendoes.

Mind you, these are not bad kids. They are merely 13. In other words, they are idiots -- even the brainy ones.

Boys-only Catholic high schools handle these kids by allowing teachers to scream at them, when necessary, even to cuss them out or cuff them about the head or shoulders. If shaking, rattling and rolling them has no effect, the miscreants can be sent to the Dean.

Youngest Son recently had occasion to be at his old high school (this was before he went back to college -- the high school has been in session for two weeks already) and he ran into the former Dean (who had also been Youngest Son's AP History teacher).

This man is a gifted teacher and a very amiable fellow -- but, when he was in Dean-mode, he had the gift of turning the kids' knees to jelly. I saw him in full battle cry once or twice and I was nervous.

But he's stepped aside from that now and Youngest Son was amazed to see new freshman relating to this terror of his teenage years (at he was least until Youngest Son enrolled in the AP course) "without wetting themselves."

There's a new terror at Youngest Son's old high school, though. There has to be. Teenage boys respond to force and fear.

Our parish school is against all that, of course. Our parish grammar school is very much a woman's world -- a soft world where we may be disappointed, but we're not supposed to get angry. I really don't know when this happened.

Oh, sure, in The Bells of St. Mary's, Ingrid Bergman and her fellow nuns were soft and gentle creatures; it took extreme provocation for Bergman's character to give young Eddie any instruction in the manly art of self-defense.

But that was fiction. Those were Hollywood nuns. The nuns I remember from my childhood would smack anyone who crossed them. And that was most of us kids. And darned near all of us boys. Some of the good sisters used rulers, too -- yardsticks really -- and about as thick as baseball bats. I'm not saying we didn't deserve it -- we probably did -- but, somehow, the nuns left and so did the discipline.

Of course, it may be just the general culture has changed, especially when it comes to grammar schools: I finished junior high as a "public" -- and we had at least one teacher there (a man) who wielded as mean a yardstick as any nun whenever it suited him (and that was pretty often). He'd probably be jailed in the present day and age.

My wife did tell the principal how bad the class had gone and the principal had called the two worst offenders to her office. She told Long Suffering Spouse that she'd made them feel bad about what they'd done; the boys had apologized. But even the principal realized this would not be enough. What would keep them in check tomorrow? She wasn't sure. Long Suffering Spouse told me that was not enough. She was telling me how much she dreaded returning in the morning; she couldn't go through this again.

"What time is football practice?" I asked. "Are they still at the same park?" All our boys played for the parish school team; the coach, Coach Gallagher, has been there for a quarter century at least.

"Football practice? Why?"

"Let me guess. Most of the worst offenders are football players, aren't they?"

"Well, yes." This is one of the reasons that our junior high teachers have traditionally not gotten on well with the football program: The biggest knuckleheads are almost always on the football team. Maybe they have the most energy. Something like that, anyway. Our two younger boys certainly fit this profile (Oldest Son was only a pain in the ass at home).

"Coach Gallagher won't like hearing that the boys are out of line, will he?"

"He'll kill them."

"And your problem with that is...?"

So it was that I accompanied Long Suffering Spouse to Valhalla Park that evening and watched a little of the football practice. Coach Gallagher's wife just started working in the school this year as a preschool aide; Long Suffering Spouse caught her before she left for the day to give her a heads-up. Thus, Coach was expecting us. He let us stand there long enough for all of his charges to be darn sure that the Spanish teacher was indeed present. Then he came over to talk to us.

He was not happy. "It's only the second day of school," he said. "We have to nip this in the bud." Long Suffering Spouse agreed vigorously. "We talk about this all the time in practice," he said. "We tell the kids every night that they have to be good at school, too. We expect good behavior."

We assured him that we knew all that and that's why we wanted him to know right away. He didn't ask for the names of the worst offenders and my wife didn't volunteer any. Then Coach asked after our boys and we told him about Oldest Son's trip to Ireland and he remembered he'd seen Youngest Son at the high school football game last Friday (just before Youngest Son left town). We asked after Coach's oldest boy, who's a freshman in college this year, hoping for a little playing time on his school football team. After these pleasantries -- and the kids could not help but notice we were engaged in lengthy conversation -- Coach asked Long Suffering Spouse, "So, do you want me to call them up so you can yell at them yourself?"

She didn't answer right away. "No, Coach," I said, "why don't we leave this a bit of a mystery?"

"Do you want to watch the rest of practice?" Coach asked. "It'll be something special." I cringed. "Coach, you know I didn't hang around practice when my boys were playing" -- there were at least two dads in lawn chairs observing practice at a distance that I'd noted when we came in. We'd made sure to have our confab at a safe distance from them, too. "So I don't think we should hang around now."

My wife said thanks and we took off.

But she was pensive when we got back to the car. "I don't know how the principal is going to like this. She doesn't like football. She may think I went behind her back. And I don't want Mrs. Gallagher to have any problems; she just started this year at school." She was quiet for awhile. "He's going to run them, isn't he?"

Until they wear ruts in the grass, I said.

We called Youngest Son on the way home. He couldn't stop laughing. "Your kids will behave now. They won't ever want to see you at practice again!"

"And their first game isn't until next weekend," I said. "So it's still conditioning this week."

"Oh, they'll get lots of conditioning tonight," Youngest Son said.

But Long Suffering Spouse was still concerned about how her principal might react. "She'll be mad at me for going behind her back. She'll be mad at Coach for giving out physical punishments. She's just going to be mad."

So I was a little apprehensive next day, waiting for Long Suffering Spouse to call.

When she finally did call, the transformation was stunning. "It was wonderful today!" she gushed. "Not a peep from anyone. Very polite. Very quiet. I've already told Mrs. Gallagher. She was thrilled, too."

"What happened?"

"None of them would talk to me, of course, but one of them told another teacher that I'd been to practice and that Coach yelled at them for misbehaving and they ran and ran and ran. She had to tell me -- she was thrilled -- the kids were wonderful for her today, too. Quite a contrast."

"Did you hear from the principal?"

"I had to tell her what I'd done. She was going to hear anyway."

"What did she say?"

"Well she wanted to know what I said and I told her what I told Coach. And I told her Coach was very concerned and that he would talk to the team about it. And I told her he's on board with the program."

"On board with the program?"

"Yes, that's what I told her."

"You didn't mention anything about the kids running?"

"No, she seemed happy enough to find out Coach was on board with the program. It seemed enough to leave it at that."

Long Suffering Spouse is, as regulars will recall, of Cuban extraction. But she's getting more Irish with each passing year.

1 comment:

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

is that me reading a SPORTS post? yup!

smiles, bee